A Letter from Paul
These are thoughts and reflections connected with some questions and comments from yesterday’s sermon on 1Corinthians 14:26-40, preached at Faith Baptist Church, 4350 Russell Ave N, Minneapolis, MN. Unfortunately the recording of the sermon will not be available online due to a malfunction of our recording equipment. You are able to listen to other sermons in the Body Building series by going to www.faithmpls.org. Thank you to everyone who texted questions; I hope that this post will answer some of them.
“If God has made us in his image, we have returned him the favor,” so said the French philosopher Voltaire. Too often we are guilty of hiding or justifying our own desires and wishes by painting over them with the broad paint strokes of God’s desire, will, and most of all His love. We wrap our own beliefs in a thin veil of proof-texting in order to pass off our best intentions as the divine will of God. And in dong this, we create God in our image. I don’t mean for this to be an accusation of others as much as an observation of my own short-comings in the Christian life and theological endeavor.
In order to accomplish this theological slight-of-hand, we talk about the intentions of the biblical authors that lie under the surface of the text, or we try to box the biblical text into a cultural context. If we are honest, those of us that try to take the Bible seriously — that try to apply it to everyday life — we all do this to some extent or another. We’ll say things like, “Well, the apostle Paul seems to be saying this here, but if we take a look at the broader context of the passage, the Pauline letters as a whole, and the historical context of this particular letter, to this particular church, at this particular time, well, then we can clearly see that Paul actually meant this.” Tah-da! Our best intentions passed off as the intentions of Paul, the words of scripture, the will of God — God created in our image.
And this is not an issue that plagues only one side of the conservative/liberal divide. Both sides need to be honest that in our attempt to apply the Word of God we can, at times, be misguided and try to force our best intentions onto God, that we inadvertently create Him in our image. So how do we avoid this? How do we seek God’s intentions while suppressing our own? How do we seek after His image without superimposing our own image upon Him? Is this even possible?
Yes and no. We can never come to scripture without our own intentions, our own history, our own shortcomings. Therefore, we will always read a portion of who we are and what we desire back into the text because of our own lenses. Realizing this, however, is the first step in attempting to avoid the danger of creating God in our image. The second step is even more difficult; we need to admit that we are guilty of attempting to create God in our image and be open to the correction of the broader community of God.
I wonder sometimes what Paul would write in a letter to the church that I have the privilege of pastoring. What would he say to me? What would he say to our leadership, to our congregation? How are we handling issues like communion, unity, sexual ethics, women and men in ministry, social justice, evangelism, etc.? As I continue to wonder, his voice sounds more and more like my own voice; the will of God sounds more and more like my own will. Then — at least on a good day — I realize I need to stop wondering, and I need to start praying. Pray for His Spirit to guide me into His Truth. Pray that God would strip away my best intentions and replace them with His. Pray that God would speak to me through His Word, His Spirit, and His people.
May each of us be honest in our theological endeavors. May each of us seek to reflect the image of God rather than projecting our image upon Him. May each of us seek His Truth. May each of us do our part to Build the Body.